Clemson Swimming Still Fighting After Valiant ACC Championship Performance

It has now been almost a year since Clemson University announced that it intends to cut both its men’s and women’s swimming programs, as well as its men’s diving program. Initially, much of the debate raged in the public sphere about whether Clemson should or should not, cut the swimming program, what should be the measure of success and value for a college swim team, what it truly takes to be successful at the major Division-1 level, and how much money all of the above would cost.

After the initial outcry and the public making their feelings about this decision clear, the battle moved more behind-the-scenes. It stopped receiving as much media attention, but if anything, the less-public battle picked up steam at that point. This is when the leaders of the movement (who have organized under the website SaveClemsonSwimming.org) had to start fighting the real battle. The publicity got the administration’s attention, and that became the time when real, concrete questions had to be asked, and solid solutions had to be come up with.

The Clemson swim team has refocused the public spotlight to their plight with a fantastic ACC Championships performance. From day 1 of that meet, the Tigers caught peoples’ attention. After winning the meet’s very first event, the 200 medley relay, the questions started flying: “How can you cut a team that’s leading ACC’s after day 1?” This performance was followed by several other extremely impressive ones, including Chris Dart’s 200 back winning performance of 1:43.77, and Eric Bruck’s winning 50 free time of 19.56. While much of the Clemson team will be chewing their nails this week in anticipation of the release of the NCAA Division 1 invitations, Bruck ensured with that time (ranked 10th in the nation) that Clemson will be represented at NCAA’s, and will keep the fight alive there. Clemson was also joined in support by the fans of other ACC team in a moving gesture that included baring shirts that read “We Are Family” and “Save Clemson Swimming.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l82SRzdyC1c[/youtube]

Their outstanding performance at ACC’s has been complicated by more than just their pending program cuts and the effect that this has had on their recruiting and their roster. At the beginning of the season, junior Will Clark, who is one of the team’s leaders, was hit by a car. He was placed in critical care and has missed the entire season. Then, when Clemson returned from their holiday training trip, they discovered that their home pool had suffered a broken pipe that drained 390,000 gallons of water from the pool. The Tigers were forced to employ what coach Chris Ip termed as “jungle training,” meaning that they had to travel to any number of odd facilities at any number of odd times to find somewhere to train. This included weekend trips to the University of Georgia, and yet the Tigers didn’t let any of this affect either their academic success or their athletic success.

The last we heard on the movement was that Clemson was still awaiting a meeting with the Board of Trustees to state their case. Much has transpired since then, and I’ll try and take the key points and highlight them here.

On March 2, 2011, SaveClemsonSwimming.org, through an open records request, was able to obtain a copy of a document entitled “Rationale for Phasing out Men’s Swimming and Diving and Women’s Swimming Programs.” This document includes a lot of supporting attachments that seem to indicate that the Athletic Department had done their due diligence prior to making the decision. Upon closer inspection, however, those who made the request were left with several important questions which have yet to be answered. We  have posted these questions below, with some very important ones bolded.

1.       The report is not dated. Was it created before 4/30/10 or only after there was some objection to the decision? The cost comparison on the last page is dated 6/17/2010
2.       To do a complete analysis, all non-revenue sports should have been included. Men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and men’s tennis have not performed well either. What would the financial impact of dropping those teams be?
3.       The five other non-revenue sports at Clemson mentioned above have an average of 23.5% of their athletes from SC. Clemson S&D has 22.4% from SC.
a.       Over the past 5 years, S&D’s average place in the ACC is 6.5 out of 11teams. Those other 5 Clemson teams averaged placing 8.3 out of 11 ACC teams.
b.      Those five teams had an average GPA of 2.98 compared to S&D’s 3.28.
4.       The only facility upgrade considered was an indoor pool. Why not consider an outdoor 50-meter? What would the cost of that option be?
5.       FSU’s operating costs of $900,000 is not accurate. Auburn and Emory confirmed their operating costs for their outdoor 50-meter pools were $100,000 to $200,000.
6.       What top-25 ranking was used? Clemson M&W have been ranked in the top 25 many times over the past 10 years.
7.       The statistics on page 6 are deceptive. What are those same stats for UNC, UVA or FSU?
8.       Page 7 – All NCAA S&D teams have the same amount of available scholarships. Men 9.9, women 14.
9.       How does recruiting high caliber swimmers raise the cost of sponsoring a swim program?
10.   Page 7 – How can elite swimmers receive more financial aid at other institutions?
11.   Is the impact of Clemson’s out-of-state academic scholarship factored in to the cost equation? Many S&D athletes also qualify for in-state tuition based on academics.
12.   Clemson has 22.4% of their athletes from SC. This is slightly higher than UNC and UVA and is close to the 30% average for all ACC Public Universities. The academic scholarships many S&D athletes qualify for may skew these numbers for Clemson. What % of S&D athletes get the academic assistance as well?
13.   Page 9 – It is asserted that $571,117 can be saved by cutting S&D but in the Appendix (Att. 9) the calculation is $459,792.
14.   The men’s golf team had a 2.60 GPA yet on page 9 it is asserted that golf can continue to attract the outstanding student-athletes that the swim program does.
a.       At USC only one of six women golfers are from SC.  College of Charleston has 3 of 9 from SC. Coastal Carolina 2 out of 9 from SC.
15.   Estimates now are $750,000 to build an indoor diving platform yet this report states $150,000-$350,000.
16.   What would the cost of using UGA’s diving platforms be? Is that factored in to the analysis?
17.   The ACC and NCAA year-end meet is scored with Swimming and Diving combined. No matter how good a diving team Clemson has, it will be statistically impossible to successfully compete in the ACC or NCAA with only diving.
18.   Attachment 8 –“the anticipated roster will be divers from across the country and international.” The lack of attracting in-state athletes was cited as a negative earlier and now is a positive?

There are also at least 6 errors of assertions within the report, as stated below:

#1- Vanderbilt University does have a 50 meter pool- Tracy Caukins Pool/ Nashville Sportsplex.
#2- Cost of Ohio State facility operations includes the cost of operations of 5 separate pools, not the cost of running a single 50 meter pool.
#3- Since the addition of a 50 meter facility at the University of Maryland, the team has steadily risen in the ranks of the ACC, and won an ACC Championship for the women in 2004-2005 season. The men’s team is not fully funded; this statement is also true for the Georgia Tech men’s program. The Georgia Tech women’s program is only 10 years old after being added in 2000.
#4- the number of participants in the state of South Carolina that participate in the sport of swimming far exceeds the number of athletes that participate in diving or women’s golf (see attachment).
#5- Even higher is the number of South Carolina club level Swimmers that participate on a Junior National level or above as compared to those of South Carolina Club diving.
#6- Percentage of In-State swimmers that choose an institution with a 50 meter facility- above 90%.

The administration is making effectively two separate arguments for cutting the program.
The first is that the administration doesn’t find it financially viable to construct a 50-meter pool, which it believes is paramount to competing in major Division-1 swimming. They continue on to say that a new pool isn’t the solution, and that the administration doesn’t believe that the amount of money spent on swimming is justified given the level of success of the program. Furthermore, they claim that the cut is a function of a value analysis of effectively “cost per win,” where they effectively state that they can get more wins for the same amount of money. So concurrently, they make arguments that the team needs a 50-meter pool that they are not willing to pay for, but that a 50-meter pool doesn’t matter anyways.

I have also been made privy to a very lengthy working-draft for the plan of attack to address this situation. I have been asked not to make the entire contents of this document public, due to the sensitive nature of the information and the desire for privacy of some involved therein. But this document does focus heavily on the school’s decision to not explore some level of private funding for a new facility.

When communicating with the Board of Trustees their decision, the Athletics Department cited specific examples of the cost of certain facilities, such as Virginia Tech’s $14.5 million facility and Florida State’s $10.5 million facility. The internal report circulated to those heavily involved with Clemson swimming, however, show that other facilities, such as the $1.6 million facility at Auburn. It also pointed out that Florida Gulf Coast University recently constructed a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard diving well, locker rooms, and office facilities for only $4.5 million. Clearly it is possible to build an very high quality facility for much less than the figures cited. It’s also not clear where the cited $900,000-$1,000,000 operating costs come from, though they may be total costs for entire facilities that don’t just include the pool. Two specific examples cited on the internal document included $250,000 per year for UCLA and $120,000 per year for Auburn.

Apparently there were discrepancies with the numbers offered for the cost of the Auburn pool, though direct communication from the architects and the University to members at SaveClemsonSwimming.org confirms the cheaper costs cited above. Clemson authorities had previously cited higher numbers, and it’s not clear where they came from.

A quote from Bill West of Weller Pools in Florida estimates that a competition-level, 50-meter, outdoor pool would run just over $2,000,000, including a state-of-the-art electronic timing system. Even if the costs of support structures (or maybe even a covering of some sort) ran at a very high estimate of $3,000,000, this still only puts Clemson right at the $5,000,000 donation figure that supporters have presented to the Athletic Department as a “what-if” figure, and seems to have been rejected.

The internal document also states that there was some concern that the Athletic Department didn’t consult potential donors prior to making the decision to cut the program. It cites specific examples of many donors who are interested in contributing large sums to the continuation of the program, especially a new facility. Between these new donations, the potential for increased community revenue for pool use (for USA-Swimming and high school meets included), and the ability for greater ability for shared use with the student community, this new facility (that at some points in the argument matters, and at other points doesn’t) suddenly becomes much more feasible.

Where they stand right now is that Adam Tepe, a former Clemson swimmer who is one of the leaders of the movement, is awaiting a response to his questions, as posted above. He is also awaiting a response to a second Freedom of Information Request that he has sent to the University. He was told by Associate Athletic Director Phil Grayson last June that a similar report was conducted on every sport. The initial response was that no such reports were known to have existed. Also seemingly nonexistent from the report that the university furnished is information where Grayson pointed out that there are several Clemson athletics programs that have been less successful than swimming, but are not being cut. The concern is that the Board of Trustees was led to believe that the performance of the swim team has significantly lagged those of other Clemson intercollegiate athletics, making it an obvious target to be cut.

Why were cost figures seemingly inflated in the presentation to the Board of Trustees, and why did the report exclude options that seemed to lead away from other options aside from cutting the swimming program?

Those who I spoke with said that the hope is not yet dead. There is still plenty of momentum to the movement, and that they strive to show the administration that the initial response was not simply an emotional response and that it would fizzle out shortly thereafter. The goal at this point is to expose the process behind the decision. It seems to have been a decision made lightly that was not justified until after-the-fact. If that process is exposed as having been flawed and shallow, then at the very least it is possible to convince the Clemson administration to enter discussions with a more open mind that it seems that they did the first time, where it was largely a unilateral decision without many attempts at creative solutions.

And not all complaints are external. There are those within the inner-circle of the Clemson University community that are unnerved by the way the decision was made.

The best-case scenario is that the program is saved. At worst, this process will reshape the way that Universities cut programs, and will let them know that it’s not as simple as picking a program based on “seems likes” and “we thinks.” Even if the Athletic Department ultimately proves to be right in their decision (which will never be better than a subjective decision), it seems more and more likely that their procedure for coming to the decision was flawed.

The man with the power to make this happen is university president Jim Barker, whose email address is [email protected]. Let him know that we, the public, are still very interested in this cause, and would like to have the questions answered. Clemson’s tag-line is “Determined Spirit,” and this swimming program has more of that determined spirit than Clemson might have ever seen.  To persevere through all of the closed doors and responses of “no” to not only continue to fight hard for their program, but to have a level of success on the men’s side that hasn’t been seen in years is what the focus needs to be. Imagine what they could do with the full support of the administration?

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Mary Paulsen

Great article. Thank you for posting this information. The lack of research done by CU before cutting the program is embarrassing to the University and AD staff. I would think at the very least the athletes who have dedicated themselves to representing Clemson University at their highest ability deserve a more thorough analysis of the situation.

Bill Shaw

Can you tell me where to send a donation to save the program. I love Clemson Swimming!

Scott Anderson

Wonderful article- as a parent and active member of our group to save Clemson Swimming, it is great to see others becoming involved. We will not give up!!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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